Saturday, October 30, 2004

Misanthropy reconsidered

Child to 911 dispatcher:

"My daddy killed me with a knife and I'm gone. Can you please send the Army men or the ambulance?"

http://www2.cnn.com/2004/US/10/28/child.stabbed.ap/

Oh yeah, and I hear Bin Laden's back. Happy Halloween, everyone.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

The Failed Curmudgeon

Two hours of sleep and then three hours of class and then nine hours at the office and finally two beers on an empty stomach with Ada. I broke up work by smoking cigarettes on the fire escape, bone-tired as I watched the city light up and the moon become full. The eclipse started as I headed north towards home, the dark coming on in small increments: a third on Peel, almost half at Pine. I kept looking up at the sky like I did when I was eight and still wanted to be an astronomer or an archaeologist or maybe an astronaut, right in the middle of the sidewalk and in everyone’s way. By the time I got to the Café it was nearly all the way there; I told the owner and he went outside to look and when he came back he thanked me for telling him and gave me a free beer. Then a whole flood of words with Ada and when she started to cry I made her run to the corner with me to see the moon all gone, and we giggled like we were eight but then it got too cold so we ran back inside. And maybe I’m an idiot but I still feel wonder at things like eclipses and oceans and city lights and trains, even when I’m tired and should be in bed.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Public Confession (Or, I watch too much CNN)

It’s just occurred to me that I have yet to write a post about politics. This is immensely strange, given that I am a deeply political animal and that the US election is less than eight days away. I will now endeavour to correct this omission; consider yourselves warned.

If I were an American, as quite a few of my friends are, I would vote for Ralph Nader on November 2nd. Yes, I am being serious – and to the Americans among you, please don’t shoot me. However, this was not always the case. Earlier in the electoral year, I was briefly seduced by the “Anyone but Bush” doctrine, which, as I understand it, holds that the current political situation is sufficiently dire that progressive citizens have an ethical obligation to vote Democrat in spite of their misgivings about the party and/or its current leader.

This is, at first glance, a reasonably compelling argument. Bush, or more accurately, the cabal of Rove/Cheney/Wolfowitz/etc. for which he acts as the endearingly oafish figurehead, has managed in four short years to annul the separation of Church and State; to reinstate economic policies that give free reign to the most despicable of his nation’s robber-barons while consigning the majority of its citizens to working poverty; and, in his spare time, to destroy a formerly viable nation-state and thus nudge the Middle East to the brink of regional collapse. Without question, things are every bit as bleak as they appear.

However, I do not believe for a moment that a John Kerrey administration will enact anything but cosmetic change. I wish it would, but having followed this infernally long campaign since day one I am now convinced that Kerrey is more concerned with securing political power than with governing on the basis of political principles. Speak out against the war in Iraq? Nah, too dicey; better to present yourself as a gun-toting, camo-wearing hawk than to risk alienating the dreaded swing states. Reject the growing influence of religious conservatives on social and educational policy? Heaven forbid: it’s far more politically expedient to kiss Catholic ass in full view of a salivating horde of cable-news spin jockeys. Identify the corporate class as the real force behind virtually all political decision-making in your country and, as Halliburton and its anonymous cohorts so aptly demonstrate, in the international sphere? Then where would your so-called liberal, so-called democratic party get its financial support?

No, Nader is absolutely right: America’s two-party system is profoundly, irredeemably corrupt and it has got to go. Now.

Cue voice-over: Hi, I'm Vila H. and I approved this message.

Languor

It has been a gloriously lazy Sunday, one that began free of the tyranny of my alarm clock and mercifully followed nine hours of uninterrupted, dream-infused sleep. I briefly considered using the waning afternoon hours to clean my fur-lined apartment but decided instead to remain in my pyjamas and do absolutely nothing of any consequence except laundry. In light of the miserable, Taylorist week that has just passed, this small act felt deliciously subversive and was, I believe, completely justifiable.

Following from my last post, I was going to write an impassioned screed about the history of the family wage and the post-industrial division of labour and how this applies to a knowledge-based economy but I think I will watch TV instead. Even Marx needed a day off once in a while.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Wanted: Professor's Wife

Chain-smoking, insomniac doctoral student of Slavic descent seeks professor’s wife for companionship and reproduction of intellectual labour power. To start immediately.

Responsibilities and qualifications include:

  • Shopping, cooking, cleaning, filing, and basic bookkeeping
  • Editing and research skills to assist with dissertation
  • Exceptional conversational skills in at least three of the following areas: philosophy, politics, music, literature, art, and popular culture
  • Prior experience as massage therapist an asset, preferably Shiatsu
  • Plumbing, electrical and bicycle repair skills
  • Candidate must be computer-literate without being a geek
  • Ability to throw fabulous and well-attended parties and perform clean-up
  • Encyclopedic knowledge of wine
  • High sex drive (mandatory)
  • Must make excellent mix CDs
  • Fluency in English, French, and Cat
  • Familiarity with federal and provincial tax codes
  • Demonstrated proficiency at giving blow-jobs at all times of the month
  • Proven grant-writing ability
  • Smoker preferred

Special consideration will be given to candidates who are independently wealthy, own a cottage, and/or keep a pied-à-terre in New York, Paris, or London. The employer is committed to the principles of affirmative action. Applications and enquiries may be sent to thesmokingsection.blogspot.com.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

The Scales of Justice, Hipster Clowns, and a Half-Baked Theory

About a month ago, my upstairs neighbour informed me that she had received an eviction notice from our landlord, ostensibly because she keeps four cats in her apartment but actually because he wants to jack up the rent on her apartment by a grossly illegal amount. This news disturbed me greatly because (a) I quite like my neighbour, despite her obsessive and slightly prying tendencies, (b) I myself have two cats which could easily be used as a pretense for my own eviction at any time, and (c) my landlord is a greedy, lying, negligent bastard who deserves to be shot. (See Fall.)

My neighbour contested the eviction, and after waiting nervously for three long weeks she has just received the court’s decision: she won! Hooray! I suppose this proves that there is, very occasionally, justice in the world; that good guys sometimes do win; and that quasi-socialist separatist governments are, on balance, a good thing.

On a completely unrelated note, I went to a clown cabaret the other night which I‘m sorry to say wasn’t especially funny. Most of the performers, though thankfully not all, were young hipster types who demonstrated both an appalling lack of the physical skills that are essential to good clowning and a surprising absence of wit, which seemed not to matter very much to an audience that was largely comprised of the performers’ friends. I’ll still take bad clowning over bad theatre (or should I say, “thea-tah”), or worse yet, any performance that is unselfconsciously termed “avant-garde,” but it ain’t no barrel of monkeys.

Actually, I’ve been thinking a lot about comedy of late, most recently about how similar comic tastes are to sexual ones. Unlike Art, by which I mean art in its broadest possible sense, both comedy and sex have a discernible, physical effect that is to some extent beyond the participant’s control: i.e. if you can too easily restrain your laughter, it probably wasn’t that funny. Also unlike Art, no amount of theoretical explication will make something that isn’t funny to you funny: using the parallel example, though I’ve read a fair amount on the subject, I still am not nor will I presumably ever be a foot fetishist. Further, a really good laugh, by which I mean the kind that comes up from your guts and brings tears to your eyes and catches you completely off-guard, is about as rare as a really good fuck, which, as before, I mean in its broadest possible sense.

All of which is to say that I would very much like to have sex with Jon Stewart, and even more so now that he’s called Tucker Carlson a dick to his face. Mmm. . .

Monday, October 18, 2004

The Party

Hungover and a little sad today; it’s dark again and cold and I’m not good for anything at all. Last night it was drinks on Laurier and a party in St. Henri and then more drinks with Ellen and James at his place and then one more after Ellen went home, and all night the conversations lurched back to love and desire and relationships, as they inevitably do, until I was utterly exhausted by the subject and fell asleep on James’ couch, my feet warm under his knee.

The party was attended by a small army of youngish gay men, many of whom waited patiently in queue for tarot readings that were expertly given by a certain Madame D. [Yo, D!] I observed the proceedings for a while and noticed that nearly every reading concerned matters of sex or love or, in exceptional cases, both, which is in and of itself hardly surprising. Somewhat more noteworthy was the fact that in spite of the tales of rejection and heartbreak that Madame D’s querents shared with her, one through tears, they remained fiercely optimistic about the possibility of connection with their lovers and friends and about the lives they are just beginning to live. By contrast, my reading concluded with the screamingly chipper Nine of Swords:


Bad dreams or premonitions. Deception, depression and suffering. Violence, scandal and loss. Etc.

Well, I guess scandal could be interesting.

Later in the evening I met one of my former students, a youngish gay man named Nicky who I was quite fond of at the time and with whom I smoked and talked for a while. He is now in his final year of an undergraduate degree in political science and has decided he has had enough of the “horrible system” that is academia. (Ah, the student surpasses the teacher!) He also talked about the very first lecture I gave in our class almost three years ago and the effect it had on him, and although I had the good grace to thank him I was still slightly amazed that he remembered it at all. When I left him I smiled and wished him well, and he smiled back up at me, and in that moment I remembered what it is I love, truly love about teaching.

Bring us home, Bakhtin:

To be means to communicate. Absolute death (nonbeing) is the state of being unheard, unrecognized, unremembered. . .

Hell yeah, and goodnight.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Fall

It’s musty and dark today, the kind of day that screams for a fireplace. I went out earlier to buy bagels and cigarettes and when I returned I noticed that the ivy leaves that blanket the front of my building, which I’m almost certain were there just yesterday, have all fallen at once. Without them, my building looks like a government housing project, in large part because the landlord had a blind man paint every square inch of its surface a dark, flat shade of brown. Brown. If welfare had two internationally recognized colours, they would be beige and brown. My landlord should be shot.

I am worried about my friend Ellen, who I hoped would meet me for coffee today but didn’t answer when I called. Ellen has been in the throes of a dying relationship since I met her several months ago, one that wounds both parties every time they draw close but which neither party has yet found the courage to end. So the relationship continues and wound stacks upon wound and they draw closer still, increasingly desperate for a comfort they cannot give each other. Does it always become cancer in the end?

Now, things have become suddenly more complicated and she is there and not-there and I’m not sure what to do other than to leave gentle and respectfully-spaced invitations to coffee on her answering machine. And to let her know it’s a standing offer.

Rejoinder

Anonymous inquires:

“So, is this blog well ventilated?”

No, no it is not. This blog is dense with blue-grey smoke that curls up into the light in endless streams. It is smoky in the manner of strip clubs and speakeasies and political backrooms; you will leave reeking of smoke and it will linger in your hair all the next day. There are no government officials here and no children either. No one is producing anything and everyone will stay until dawn. It is a space that is regressing into the province of memory, a thing that is loved and gone; it is a refuge and a funeral at once.

To me, the sexiest smell in the world is the one that comes off a smoker’s leather coat. Will you wear one next time?

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Prologue: In the Neighbourhood

“. . .THIS IS MILE END, MY FRIEND, the hollowed out ruins here &a train runs straight thru them. . .”

This post was birthed in my 3½ room apartment in Mile End, an historic and rapidly-gentrifying neighbourhood in north Montreal. Mile End was mythologized in the liner notes of Godspeed You Black Emperor’s f#a#infinity at precisely the moment of its transformation: formerly a post-industrial enclave of Mediterranean immigrants, Hasidic Jews and working-class francophones, the neighbourhood is now a highly-desirable real estate market and temporary refuge for hipsters in exile from the adjacent Plateau. I came to Mile End and to Montreal just over five years ago, and although I regularly bemoan its rising rents and specialty shops and profusion of “New York-style” lofts, the place has become, for lack of a better term or a more viable alternative, my home.

This is, at root, because Mile End encompasses a statistically disproportionate number of the relationships that are most important to me and, in turn, it is this synthesis of intimacy and proximity that defines my experience of the neighbourhood. By way of illustration: my apartment is situated at the northernmost edge of the neighbourhood, which ends finally and abruptly at the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks. My closest friends all live within five blocks of this radius point, each clinging tenaciously to their cheap and spacious apartments as they anticipate the inevitable arrival of their registered eviction letters. In the meantime, we meet regularly for coffee and drinks at our local café, which is just one of many local cafés but which by virtue of being our café is therefore, for the purposes of this blog, the Café. The Café’s proprietor lives on the other side of my street, as does James, who is as it happens partially responsible for the existence of this blog.

Like myself, James is a doctoral student who, in the language of the post-Martin Canadian university, is “failing to progress.” He is also a writer whose current level of prolificacy is, I suspect, inversely proportional to his talent, but that is quite another story. While drinking at the Café the other night, which James and I do altogether too frequently, we discussed the Blog and its potential uses (e.g. as diary, as political soapbox, as research aid, as writer’s therapy) and by the time we staggered home at our usual late hour we had made a fool’s pact to both start one. Not more than twenty-four hours later James triumphantly posted his first entry, and being a woman of my word, I have somewhat belatedly followed suit.

I’m not at all certain which of the aforementioned categories this blog will fall into, nor do I possess any discernible sense of its utility to anyone other than myself. Having said this, I am at my worst a compulsive story-teller and I imagine this will become readily apparent to any readers who may stumble across these pages. To them I offer a warm welcome and my sincere apologies. And yes, you may smoke here.